British Journal of Nutrition

Research Article

Relation of BMI to a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry measure of fatness

Alfredo Morabiaa1 c1, Alan Rossa2, François Curtina1, Claude Picharda3 and Daniel O. Slosmana4

a1 Division of Clinical Epidemiology, University Hospital of Geneva, Switzerland

a2 Department of Biostatistics, The Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA

a3 Division of Nutrition, University Hospital of Geneva, Switzerland

a4 Division of Nuclear Medicine, University Hospital of Geneva, Switzerland


Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) is a valid technique for measuring the fat, bone and lean (muscle, organs and water) masses of the body. We evaluated relationships of BMI (kg/m2) with independent measurements of fat and lean masses using DXA in 226 adult volunteers. The evaluation was an application of a general approach to compositional data which has not previously been used for describing body composition. Using traditional regression analyses, when lean mass was held constant, BMI varied with fat mass (men r 0·75, P < 0·05 ; women r 0·85, P < 0·05); when fat mass was held constant, BMI varied with lean mass (men r 0·63, P < 0·05; women r 0·47, P < 0·05). In contrast, a regression model for compositional data revealed that BMI was: (a) strongly associated with log fat mass in both sexes (b1 4·86, P < 0·001 for all women and b1 5·96, P < 0·001 for all men); (b) not associated with bone mass, except in older men; (c) related to lean mass in women but not in men (b3 −4·04, P < 0·001 for all women and b1 −2·59, P < 0·15 for all men). Women with higher BMI tended to have more fat mass and more lean mass than women with lower BMI. Men with higher BMI had more fat mass but similar lean mass to men with lower BMI. Investigators need to be alert to the inaccuracy of BMI to assign a fatness risk factor to individuals, especially among women.

(Received July 07 1997)

(Revised December 17 1998)

(Accepted February 23 1999)


c1 *Corresponding author: Dr Alfredo Morabia, fax: +41 22 372 9565, email